Much has been made about the Cowboys’ night and day record against good and bad teams, and rightfully so. The combined record of teams that Dallas has beaten this year is 16-43-1, while the combined record of teams they’ve lost to is 40-22. And of course, the Cowboys have yet to beat a team with a winning record.
Their opponent this week, the Chicago Bears, currently sits at 6-6, so if the trends hold to form then Dallas has at least a good shot of winning, right? After all, they’re a three-point favorite on the road for this game, which is actually impressive.
Being on the road at Chicago this time of year is a near death sentence for the Cowboys, or any team not used to the bitter cold of the Midwest. Soldier Field is already a loud stadium to play in, and the Bears’ top ten defense led by Khalil Mack makes things harder. But going there in December worsens things, as it’s predicted to be around 30 degrees by kickoff Thursday night with a 12 mph wind chill and 74% humidity. There’s also a chance of light rain or snow later on, which we all now know the Cowboys are incapable of preparing for.
Of course, this is the third time the Cowboys have played in Chicago in December in recent history, and the other two times were a mixed bag. First was the 2013 season when a 7-5 Dallas team entered Soldier Field on December 9 and saw the 6-6 Bears, led by Josh McCown, demolish them 45-28.
The very next year, Dallas returned to Chicago on December 4 sitting at 8-4 and exacted revenge by blowing out the 5-7 Bears 41-28, almost an exact mirror image of their loss a year ago. Since then, the Cowboys have only faced the Bears once, and it was in Dallas in the first month of the 2016 season.
The most notable difference since then is the Cowboys’ quarterback. Back in 2013 and 2014, Tony Romo was slinging it around. A Wisconsin native who played college ball at Eastern Illinois, Romo had grown up playing in those kinds of frigid conditions, but as we saw against the Patriots, Dak Prescott is not used to it, having grown up between Louisiana and Mississippi.
Weather will almost certainly play a factor here, but that shouldn’t distract from the fact that this game could most easily be described as the Disappointment Bowl. Before the season began, Chicago had the fifth best odds to win the Super Bowl, while Dallas was tied for eighth best odds. Both teams made the playoffs last year with solid, if inconsistent, offensive play and stifling defense, only for one small weakness to cause their early exit.
For Dallas, it was the offensive coordinator. And while there was doubt at the time, it’s clear that Kellen Moore has been a very legitimate solution to that problem. The Cowboys offense ranks first in total yards and passing offense, eighth in scoring, and second in DVOA. And Dak, despite two rough performances the last two games, has been playing at an incredibly high level.
For Chicago, their Achilles heel was the kicking position, and they cut Cody Parkey after his double-doink ended their playoffs last year. Thus began a rather comical series of events where the Bears brought in a large number of kickers and had them all attempt kicks from where Parkey missed, eventually settling on Eddy Pineiro as their new kicker. For what it’s worth, Parkey had a higher field goal percentage last year (76.7%) than Pineiro currently has this year (75%).
But the 2019 season has revealed that both of these teams actually had other Achilles heels that went unaddressed. For the Bears, it was their franchise quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who’s played anywhere from average to terrible this year. Currently, Trubisky ranks 25th in completion percentage above expectation, 28th in both DVOA and DYAR, 29th in total QBR, and 24th in total EPA.
And for the Cowboys, it turned out that their coaching problems ran much deeper than just the guy calling the offensive plays, which is why the calls for Jason Garrett to lose his job have never been louder. But at 6-6, Dallas is still leading the division and has a 66% chance of winning the NFC East, according to Five Thirty Eight. Those odds would increase to 75% with a win on Thursday.
Either way, a division crown means the Cowboys get to host a really good playoff team and being at home increases their chances of winning, and from there it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking this team could go on some magical run akin to the 2011 Giants, who once sat at 6-6 themselves before going onto win a ring.
But it all starts Thursday night, and the Cowboys must win. A loss coupled with a likely Eagles win over the hapless Giants would see a net decrease of 13% for Dallas and likewise a net increase of 13% for Philadelphia as far as NFC East odds go. So if this magical run is going to happen, it has to start in Chicago in December, potentially in the snow. No problem, right?